Critics’ Picks

View of “Reading Dante IV,” 2010.

View of “Reading Dante IV,” 2010.


Joan Jonas

Galleria Raffaella Cortese | Via Stradella 7
Via Stradella 7
November 25, 2010–February 26, 2011

For over forty years, the revered American artist Joan Jonas has blurred the boundaries between art and life, working and living within a hybrid territory that could be categorized as the experimental realm of artistic research. This sustained approach to her practice has made Jonas one of the pioneers of performance art, and her continuing importance to this evolving genre is abundantly clear in her latest Italian exhibition, “Reading Dante IV.” The show is a component of her ongoing work Reading Dante, which began three years ago as a personal interpretation of the Divine Comedy (1308–21) by Dante Alighieri.

Since 2007, Jonas has been translating medieval allegories and fragments from Dante’s poem into various forms, and each time she has reenacted and reconsidered her project’s previous installment. In this exhibition, three video projections, drawings on paper (displayed on glass tables and hung on the gallery walls), two benches, a series of lamps, and a blackboard are elements of a complex and non-narrative read of Dante’s text, which is developed through references to animals and symbolic elements in the videos and drawings, as well as through choreographies of various other objects in relation to the space.

The show appears as a laboratory-cum-set, where the artist experiments with the modalities of drawing and performance, always revealing her process to the public. Dante’s journey thus becomes infused with a combination of medieval scenarios, postmodern nurseries, metropolitan detritus, and aspects of nature in a constant reevaluation of the linearity of time and space. From each of these references, the artist brings forth the emotionality that characterizes them, turning them into a territory of perception of the self and Dante into an antilinear luminary.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.